Thursday, January 6, 2011

Veganista - The Verdict

A friend recently gave me some wise advice that was imparted to him by his father: "Do everything in moderation . . . including moderation".  I think this is the best advice I've heard in a long time.  You see, most folks deemed me crazy when they heard that I was going to spend the month of December as a raw vegan, blog or not.  "How are you going to eat food that hasn't been cooked for a month?" "Can't you wait until January and make it a resolution?".  I do understand that it WAS a little extreme.  I realize that.  And I accept that . . . with open arms.  But if there's one thing I've learned (well, two, actually), it's that sometimes if you jump in the deep end, you find that you're a fabulous swimmer and you never truly know about something until you try it.  So, I tried it.  Wholeheartedly.  And I learned more than I ever expected to learn.  Ever.

A few words on the plan.  My intention was to eat only raw (not cooked over 115°F) food that contained no animal products or animal byproducts for thirty days (not including Christmas dinner and one other pre-arranged dinner party - I didn't want to be a bad guest and I can't turn down my Mom's cooking).  Why would I try something like this?  Well, a few reasons.  First, it's trendy and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  Second, it's really freaking healthy - food loses tons of nutrients when we cook it.  And, so, if we're taking out the nutrients, then we basically are eating empty calories and I might as well eat cream soda flavored Jelly Bellys 24/7, right?  (Okay, maybe it's not all that extreme).  Anyway, here's an example.  In a 2005 study, the folks at the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that when you microwave, for instance, broccoli, it loses 97 percent of flavonoids, 74 percent of sinapics, and 87 percent of caffeoyl-quinic derivatives (I know, what the hell are these, right?  Well, they're antioxidants. And they're kind of important).  And that's just broccoli.  And a third reason?  Why the heck not?  So, on December 1st, I set out to give it a try.  How hard could it be, right?

First day, I went to the grocery store and bought tons of fresh fruits and veggies.  Ooh!  Avocados!  Red peppers!  Olives!  Asian pears!  This wasn't going to be hard at all.  I came home and ate an avocado for breakfast - with a spoon.  I then made a yummy salad with my grocery goodies for lunch, opened a can of chick peas to top it off, and poured some of my low fat raspberry vinaigrette on top.  Good job, raw veganista me.  I sat down and started reading the back of my dressing as I munched.  Hmm.  Xanthan gum.  Now, normally, I would ignore this random additive.  But this time, I decided to check it out online.  Um . . . glad I did.  So, Xanthan gum is a food-thickening additive that is produced by the fermentation of glucose or sucrose (sugars) and then chemically doctored beyond belief (dude, seriously, wiki it).  First of all, ew.  Second, all the processes included high temperatures that precluded the xanthan gum and, consequentially salad dressing, from my raw vegan diet (which, by the time I was done reading, was the least of my worries).  Okay, so no salad dressing for me.  The next time I went to the grocery store, I read the ingredients of all of the salad dressings.  Dude, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, calcium disodium, dextrose and malodextrin.  The list went on.  So, okay, ix-ne on the dressing.  Apparently, the only thing I could slap on my salad was oil and vinegar.  Okay, I could deal with that.  I bought some balsamic vinegar and went home.  Lesson number one learned.  I told a friend about my fabulous first-day salad and he wisely commented, "You should look at those chick peas".  Crap.  Canned chick peas.  COOKED chick peas.  With preservatives.  Fine.  Whatever.  So, no chick peas either.

Day number two, I was discussing my newfound healthy lifestyle with my castmate, (the velvet-voiced Kevin Earley), over a cup of Starbucks.  He listened patiently and responded, "What about that?", nodding gently toward my coffee with one raised eyebrow.  Beat.  Beat.  Shit!  NO, dude!  Not my coffee, too!  No!  You can't take that from me!  Not coffee AND bacon!!!  I started to tear up.  No coffee for a month?  WHAT!?!?!?!  I took a deep breath and headed toward the ever-informative internet for a little research.  Turns out, coffee in small quantities IS good for you.  It's been found to reduce the risk of Alzheimers, gallstone disease, Parkinsons, it's an anti-diabetic, it's good for the liver, it's an antioxidant, it has been linked to reduced risk of some types of cancer, and it improves cognitive performance (obviously).  Okay, so it's not raw, but it's good.  And I wasn't going to eat raw coffee beans for a month.  Fine.  I would allow myself this one cheat.  Okay, maybe two.  While I was cheating a little, it was the holiday season, so I decided to allow myself to imbibe alcoholic beverages from time to time as well.  (Incidentally, wine is raw and vegan - who knew!).

Over the next week, I slowly, but surely, I began to find foods and snacks that I could (and wanted to) eat.  I added nuts, seeds, and sprouts to my list of Veganista-friendly foods.  Cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, coconut, crunchy sprouts, tamari-sprinkled pumpkins seeds, figs, and may other things that I would never have thought to buy before December 1st  became fun and tasty finds.  I became a Lara Bar addict and found some yummy carob-almond-fig energy squares at my local market that were perfect to down before a workout.  I picked up raw almond butter and spread it on slices of Asian pear when I wanted something sweet.  I became a veritable Kalamata olive fanatic and took to slicing them and adding them to my already diverse salad concoctions.  And, if you were wondering – Hallie, yes, I had some pretty serious flatulence for the first few days, particularly because I was taking two shots of wheatgrass per day, but after about a week, it subsided (thankfully)!  Well, for the most part, anyway.  And after a few tries, I became a pro at ordering when dining out and actually found that it was so much easier to know that I would only have a few options from which to choose and I sat peacefully while my friends deliberated over what to order.  Now, don’t take me the wrong way.  It was a little difficult to eat my salad while my friends gnawed at BBQ wings, but I actually, after two or so weeks, started to crave raw food instead of french fries (and also to be a little grossed out by ingesting dead animals).  It was hard to watch television at night without my favorite snack of kettle corn, but I sprinkled cucumber slices with kosher salt and pretended.

Somewhere’s about Day 11, I was at the gym with the best personal trainer in the world (Freddie Kimmel – look him up folks – he’s not kidding around if you want a fierce workout) and I crashed.  Like, my arms felt like lead and my vision was closing like a camera aperture.  Freddie wisely recommended I get some sort of protein supplement as most raw vegans have a hard time getting the protein needed to perform daily activities (not to mention doing an eight show week and working out with Trainer Freddie).  Totally fix-able.  I moseyed to the local Vitamin Shoppe and picked up some raw vegan protein supplement powder.  Um, people?  It tasted like chalk, dust, and the slime on the side of the A train stop at 181st mixed together.  And I do not exaggerate.  Not at all.  I seriously would have preferred to pass out in the gym and get a seeing-eye dog until December 30th.  I had to get some protein somehow, though!  And I had paid a pretty penny for that vat of dusty disgustingness.  A few days later, Trainer Freddie introduced me to a great little recipe for “protein balls” that mixed the powder with almond butter, walnuts, raisins, coconut, and sesame seeds.  And they were brilliant.  And a convenient grab-and-go snack.  Woo hoo!  Protein, here I come!  In less than an hour, I felt much better.  For that matter, after my little protein deficiency, I felt fabulous for the rest of the month.  I wasn’t hungry, like, ever, I had tons of energy, and I actually was starting to crave things like olives and apples and cherry tomatoes.  Who knew!

Now, I wasn’t a perfect little raw vegan by any stretch of the imagination.  I definitely cheated a few times.  I had my lovely predetermined “free” dinner and ate my face off.  It was so good . . . for about twenty minutes.  And then, I felt absolutely disgusting.  For the next twelve hours.  Was it worth it, I wondered?  I wasn’t quite sure.  Much like the close talker with the halitosis at the holiday party, I felt like my body was trying really hard to get rid of my dinner as quickly as possible.  The same thing happened every time I cheated.  I had some of a friend’s nachos one evening in a moment of weakness and not only did I taste the (previously undetectable to my palate) chemicals in the cheese, but the texture of the food in general felt gummy.  The same thing happened when I stealthily and guiltily munched the sliver of toast that came with my salad – it felt like it stuck to the roof of my mouth.  What was IN this stuff anyway?  My last and most extravagant cheat: Mom’s fabulous Christmas dinner.  There was NO way that I would pass up her turkey, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and broccoli and cauliflower salad.  I went to town.  And then had some cheesecake to boot.  It was Christmas, after all.  Now, THAT was worth the icky feeling I had for the next twelve hours.  But that's a once a year kind of meal.  And worth the 364 day wait for it.  But, by Christmas, I had learned an important lesson.  For good.  I realized that had been ignorantly eating, for the most part, processed CRAP for my entire life!  And didn’t have any idea what was in ANY of it.  Really, Michelle?  I could tell you the calorie count of pretty much any food in the grocery store, but I couldn’t tell you if there was dextrose in the wheat thins or nitrates in the lunch meat.  Wow.  Another lesson I learned is that milk products are, basically, the devil.  Now, I won’t go off on how NOBODY should be ingesting milk products EVER, but I will tell you that every time I did, I felt disgusting.  Even the handful of butterscotch chips that I had on Christmas evening felt slimy.  Wow.  I officially didn’t like it.  Lesson number two for the Veganista: no more milk.  Like, at all.  Like, ever.  And not because I won't allow myself to have it.  It's just that after a month without it, I really don't want it anymore.  

So, I know this has been a long blog, but it WAS an entire month after all.  And I kind of had a lot to say.  And I still have more to say, but I won't bore you all with the novel-length version.  I don’t have that kind of time.  Or audience, for that matter.  I will just say, though, that I truly believe that extremes can teach us a lot.  And I definitely learned a lot.  I learned that fresh, real food is exponentially better for me.  Not that I didn’t know that before, but I now know that for myself.  And, never underestimate the power of a lesson learned firsthand.  Second, I know that there are some foods that I used to eat that my body really doesn’t like.  I was forcing them down without really listening to the effects of their digestion (much like most of America).  Third, chemicals taste like crap.  I had a few jelly beans a few days ago and it was literally an assault to my taste buds.  But I wanted to keep eating them nonetheless.  Even though I didn’t like them.  The chemical that the jelly bean company put in the mix that makes my mouth want more was working at full speed ahead.  I stopped, thought, “This is not good at all”, and went for a handful of raw cashews.  Much better. 

Will I continue to be a raw vegan?  Nope.  I don’t roll like that.  Will my diet in general be changed immensely by this experience?  Absolutely.  Perhaps I was crazy for radically changing my diet for a month.  But, now, having been at both ends of the spectrum of eating, experiencing firsthand the ridiculously healthy and the overly unhealthy, I can now find a happy medium that works for me.  I think that’s what it’s all about.  


Hiatt's blog said...

Beautifully written! I loved doing the raw/vegan lifestyle and am currently aiming for 2 of 3 meals and all snacks to be raw...

Love you girl! Come home soon!

Freddie, send me recipe for protein balls!

andrea said...

As your dressing room mate, I can say, you REALLY did it! SO many goodies around all month and you didn't touch em! I can also say that Michelle will eat a Christmas butter cookie cause it SEEMS like it will be yummy but she then after she consumes it, she hates it 30 seconds later and complains about the chemical taste and how gross she feels. SO no more butter cookies for YOU!
I am proud of you for sticking to it, trying something new and not being judgy of those around you who had no interest in trying it during the holiday season. No one likes a judgy vegetarian!
Kudos to you and by they LOOK amazing! =)

andrea said...

I forgot one thing....yeah....she was definitely farty.........nothing a little coffee scented candle didn't cure though. =)

Zakiya said...

LOL! michelle i love ya but i'm glad i was NOT around during the inaugural period of your raw lifestyle. whew! i remember how great i felt when i was eating mostly raw food in dallas. i'm getting back on the bandwagon when i go to cali. you've inspired me.

Zakiya said...

and i also want the recipe for protein balls please :-)

Michelle Lookadoo said...

Here's the recipe:

1/2c of Sun Warrior Raw Vegan Protein Powder (I used chocolate) which is all I had.
2T of Almond butter
2T of Raw Shredded Coconut
2T of Raw Agave Nectar
1T of Walnuts
1T of Raisins

Smoosh together and make balls and then roll them in the coconut!

Blonde Moxie said...

I did it for a year and a half - most energy I've ever had - most money and time I've ever spent on eating. But I'm so glad I did it.
Oh and I agree about milk - cow milk is made for a calf that will grow to be 100's of pounds with 4 stomachs (well at least 4 compartments that are very different from ours) - just sayin'.